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0Q                                                                                                                           B. POLEVOI
forest. The trunks of the still bare birch-trees, the tops
of which looked like smoke frozen in the air, stood side
by side with the golden trunks of pine-trees, and among
them, here and there, showed the dark, peaked tops of
fir-trees.
Beneath the trees, which hid them from enemy eyes
from the ground and from the air, at a spot where the
snow had long been trampled by hundreds of feet, were
the dugouts. Infants' diapers were drying on the branches
of century-old fir-trees, pots and pitchers were being aired
on the stumps of pine-trees, and under an old fir-tree,
from the trunk of which beards of grey moss were
dangling, between its sinewy roots where, according to
all the rules, a beast of prey should be lying, lay a greasy
rag doll with a flat, genial face traced with indelible
pencil.
The crowd, preceded by the stretcher, moved slowly
down the trampled, moss-carpeted "street".
In the open air Alexei at first felt an upsurge of
instinctive, animal joy, but this gave way to feeling of
sweet, silent sadness.
Lenochka wiped the tears from his face with a tiny
pocket handkerchief and, interpreting these tears in her
own way, told the stretcher-bearers to go slower.
"No, no! Faster! Go faster!" said Meresyev, hurrying
them on.
It seemed to him that they were going too slowly. He
began to fear that he would not be able to get away,
that the aircraft from Moscow would fly away without
waiting for him and he would never reach the clinic. He
moaned softly from the pain caused him by the hurried
pace of the stretcher-bearers, but he kept on repeating:
"Faster please, faster!" He hurried them on in spite of the
fact that he heard Grandad Mikhail panting for breath
and saw him slipping and stumbling. Two women took
the old man's place at the stretcher; he continued to plod
along by the side of the stretcher opposite to Lenochka.
Wiping his perspiring bald head, flushed face and
wrinkled neck with his officer's cap he mumbled con-
tentedly:
"Whipping  us  up, eh? In   a hurry! ... Quite right,
Alexei, you are absolutely right, hurry them up! When a